India and Bangladesh’s governments’ mutual efforts are paving way for cooperative and collaborative diplomacy in the domain of infrastructure and connectivity, unlike some who coerce and arm twist other countries to succumb to the demands.
Connectivity: The natural course of the growing ties.
Recent developments in the infrastructure and connectivity projects between the two countries is on full-throttle. India-Bangladesh connectivity is back to pre-Covid levels.
On June 25th 2022, Bangladesh inaugurated the long-awaited Padma Bridge, the country’s biggest development project since its birth in 1971, that is expected to give the nation’s development index a big boost and connect India directly to Dhaka, through road, rail and ports.
The main bridge spanning 6.15 kms is the largest bridge in the country and the second-largest in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Following the project’s implementation, travel time from Dhaka to Kolkata for instance shall reduce to 3 to 4 hours. India has appreciated this move undertaken by the Bangladesh government and views it as an opportunity to bring both countries closer.
Over the past 8 years, India has extended 3 Lines of Credit to Bangladesh amounting to $8 billion for the development of infrastructure in various sectors including roads, railways, shipping and ports. It was the largest concessional credit given by India to any single country.
The Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina offered Bangladesh’s main sea port – the Chittagong and Mongla Ports – to Indian eastern states like Assam and Tripura. The decision was in light of forging new ties to improve connectivity between the two countries, facilitating better trade activity. India is also trying to get Bangladesh to channelise some of its exports through Indian ports instead of going through Malaysia or Singapore.
At the NADI-3 (Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence) Conference, Asian Confluence River Conclave, 2022, MEA S Jaishankar said the starting point would be enhancing connectivity with Bangladesh, especially with the neighbouring northeast, and the restoration of six historical cross-border rail links, dormant since 1965. “Once operational, the Shahabazpur (Bangladesh) to Mahishasan (Assam) link will be extended within Bangladesh and connected to the Kuluara- Shahbazpur rail line that is currently being modernised.”
Inaugurated in December 2020, the Chilahati-Haldibari (West Bengal) line will further enhance Assam’s connectivity to Bangladesh through New Jalpaiguri, including passenger traffic.
At present, Maitri Express runs between Dhaka and Kolkata, Mitali Express between Dhaka and Siliguri, and Bandhan Express between Kolkata and Khulna. A rail link between Akhaura (Bangladesh) to Agartala (Tripura) is being developed, which already resulted in the increase of trade between the two countries.
The External Minister S Jaishankar said that inside Bangladesh, India is collaborating on a series of road projects, including improving the Ashuganj River Port-Akhaura Land Port Road under an LoC of more than US$ 400 million.
“The road project connecting Baruerhat to Ramgarh on the India-Bangladesh border, which will increase Tripura’s road connectivity with Bangladesh, is also being implemented under another LoC of US$ 80.06 million,” he said.
Cross-border power transmission lines and digital connectivity infrastructure offer additional dimensions of connectivity, S Jaishankar said adding that the international gateway between Agartala and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is helping to provide faster internet access and broadband services in Tripura.
India has been supplying 1,160 MW of electricity to Bangladesh and 1,500 MW more is already in the pipeline. The raft of connectivity projects that India has undertaken with Bangladesh and ASEAN countries opens up the possibility of linking eastern India with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and boost the economy of eastern states, especially of West Bengal and the Northeast.
Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN-MVA) finally took a step forward on 7th-8th March 2022, as the stakeholder countries congregated to actualise one of the long-pending connectivity aspirations of South Asia.
The Indian government is leaving no stone unturned in making the Northeast a hub in itself and developing it as the gateway to the South East Asian nations. Poor infrastructure, difficult terrain, insurgent politics, and geopolitical constraints had hitherto kept the Northeast region underdeveloped and isolated for many years, now it can have better access with such progresses. These connectivity projects have trickling down effects to regions; and sub-regional connectivity projects in the region as well. This indeed is a win-win situation for both the countries.
On the economic front, Bangladesh has already set up 3 Special Economic Zones for Indian investors and Indian companies. Also agreed to set up Indian Economic Zone, it is being built on 857 acres of land with an estimated cost of Taka 964 crore supported by an Indian Line of Credit worth USD 115 million. The project involves land development, construction of connecting roads, security system, water supply, telecommunication, and water treatment plant facilities for the Indian companies investing in Bangladesh.
Both the countries also embarked on signing Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The proposed CEPA has 3 dimensions: trade in goods, trade in services and investment. The aim is to reduce the huge trade gap between the two and open up new avenues including multi-modal connectivity, new market, cooperation and partnership.
Bangladesh’s share in India’s exports increased from 1.4% in 2010 to 3.5% in 2021. India’s share in Bangladesh goods exports stood at 3.3% and it was the 8th largest export destination.
The increase in exports to Bangladesh helped India’s overall merchandise exports reach $417.8 billion in the financial year 2021-22 and it is likely to exceed $418 billion to reach an all-time high in India’s export history.
However, a question arises that can these economic, infrastructural- connectivity plans also have an optimistic spillover effect on human or social connect between the two countries? Given the atrocities unleashed on Hindu minorities that are reported from Bangladesh is a concerning issue.
These above mentioned events apparently indicates the ushering of a golden period for India’s robust relation with its neighbours taking along its own nationalistic goals. Strong and safe neighbourhood is important for India’s security as well.